Paul Krugman Analyzes the Republican War on Education and Teachers! 

Dear Commons Community,

New York Times columnist, Paul Krugman, has a piece today analyzing why education and teachers are in the crosshairs of Republicans.  Here is an excerpt:

“So what happens when hard-line conservatives take over a state, as they did in much of the country after the 2010 Tea Party wave? They almost invariably push through big tax cuts. Usually these tax cuts are sold with the promise that lower taxes will provide a huge boost to the state economy.

This promise is, however, never — and I mean never — fulfilled; the right’s continuing belief in the magical payoff from tax cuts represents the triumph of ideology over overwhelming negative evidence.

What tax cuts do, instead, is sharply reduce revenue, wreaking havoc with state finances. For a great majority of states are required by law to balance their budgets. This means that when tax receipts plunge, the conservatives running many states can’t do what Trump and his allies in Congress are doing at the federal level — simply let the budget deficit balloon. Instead, they have to cut spending.

And given the centrality of education to state and local budgets, that puts schoolteachers in the cross hairs.

How, after all, can governments save money on education? They can reduce the number of teachers, but that means larger class sizes, which will outrage parents. They can and have cut programs for students with special needs, but cruelty aside, that can only save a bit of money at the margin. The same is true of cost-saving measures like neglecting school maintenance and scrimping on school supplies to the point that many teachers end up supplementing inadequate school budgets out of their own pockets.”

So what conservative state governments have mainly done is squeeze teachers themselves.”

Teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arizona are fighting back and taking their cause to the picket lines. It is the only tactic to which some Republicans in state leadership positions seem willing to respond.


Special Elections in New York Will Determine Which Party Controls the State Senate!

Dear Commons Community,

Special elections in New York tomorrow will present voters with nearly a dozen state legislative races from Buffalo to Long Island, and could prove decisive in the Democrats’ quest to capture all levers of state government.  The vacancies in the State Senate and Assembly are the result of incumbents moving on to other positions. Here is a recap of the contests courtesy of the New York Times:

“The most critical races to the future of Democrats and Republicans are the two for State Senate, one in Westchester County and the other in the Bronx. Democrats have long enjoyed a comfortable margin in the 150-seat Assembly, but control of the Senate has mostly eluded them, because of a power-sharing arrangement between Republicans and eight renegade Democrats.

Despite a technical majority in the Senate, Democrats have taken a back seat to Republicans in the upper chamber, watching as the collaboration between Republicans and the so-called Independent Democratic Conference stymied legislation on issues like childhood sexual abuse and voting rights.

But this month, a reconciliation was reached between the two Democratic factions. The agreement will most likely allow the Democratic Party to recapture the Senate — that is, as long as the two vacancies that were in Democratic hands remain that way after the special election.

In the 32nd District in the South Bronx, the Senate seat vacated by Rubén Díaz Sr. will almost surely be captured by a Democrat because of the party’s overwhelming advantage in voter rolls. (Mr. Díaz left after winning a seat on the New York City Council.) Luis R. Sepúlveda, a Democratic assemblyman, will face Patrick Delices, a Republican who formerly taught Caribbean studies at Hunter College.

In Westchester, however, the Senate contest between Assemblywoman Shelley B. Mayer, a Democrat, and Julie Killian, a Republican and former deputy mayor in Rye, has both parties on tenterhooks.

The seat in the 37th District was held by George Latimer, a progressive Democrat who resigned after winning his race for Westchester County executive. Democrats in the county also outnumber Republicans two to one. But redistricting several years ago favored Republicans, and Ms. Killian has mounted a robust challenge.

In an illustration of the race’s importance, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, stumped for Ms. Mayer in Mamaroneck on Sunday morning to help get out the vote.

“The Westchester seat is the one where the most money and attention are being spent,” said Geoff Berman, executive director of the state’s Democratic Party. “We’ve been doing all sorts of phone banks and organizing canvassing trips from around the state to help Shelley.”

The big challenge with special elections, of course, is voter turnout. Unlike the November elections, special elections can escape the notice of all but the most avid followers of politics. In the past year, more Democrats have become involved in local politics than any time in recent memory. “The Democratic base is a lot more energized since the election of President Trump,” said George Picoulas, a lecturer in political science at Pace University.

In the Assembly, where Democrats have a nearly three-to-one advantage over Republicans, the nine elections on Tuesday could afford Republicans the opportunity to make inroads and the Democrats to solidify their grip. Five of the nine seats were held by Republicans, including all three on Long Island and two upstate.

Two fresh vacancies in the Assembly, resulting from two certainties of life in Albany — death and indictment — will be decided in the November election.

The three Assembly seats in New York City are expected to be filled by Democrats. In the 39th District in Queens, which includes Jackson Heights, the only major-party candidate to appear on the ballot is Aridia Espinal, a Democrat and former aide to Francisco Moya, who left the Assembly for a spot on the City Council.

In the 80th District in the Bronx, which includes Pelham Gardens, Mark Gjonaj also quit the Assembly for the City Council. The Republican candidate, Gene DeFrancis, is a United States Navy veteran who founded a merchants association. He will face Mr. Gjonaj’s former chief of staff, Nathalia Fernandez, who also worked as a Bronx representative for Mr. Cuomo.

The recent move of Brian Kavanagh, a Democrat, from the Assembly to the Senate opened up the seat in the 74th District on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where Harvey Epstein, a lawyer and former community board chairman, has the Democratic nod. He will oppose Bryan Cooper, an event planner and perennial Republican candidate.

On Long Island, the outcome of the special elections is far less certain.

In the Fifth District in Suffolk County, where Republicans dominate the electoral rolls, Al Graf, a former Republican assemblyman, left the seat for a district court judgeship. Competing to replace him are two Holbrook residents: Doug Smith, a Republican and former aide to Mr. Graf, and Deborah Slinkosky, a Democrat and former school board member who twice tried to unseat Mr. Graf.

Another seat in Suffolk was also under Republican control. Chad A. Lupinacci stepped down after winning the race for Huntington town supervisor. Republicans have held the seat in the 10th District for decades, despite the Democratic advantage in voter registration.

On Tuesday, Janet Smitelli, a Republican lawyer of Huntington, will face the Democrat, Steve Stern, a lawyer and former county legislator. Both said they want to confront the problems of high taxes, gang activity and groundwater contamination.

In the 17th District in Nassau County, another Republican, Thomas McKevitt, left for the County Legislature. The Republican nominee is John Mikulin, a 30-year-old lawyer, while the Democratic challenger is 25-year-old Matthew Malin, who works for the county’s Board of Elections.

Democrats will also vie for Assembly seats relinquished by Republicans upstate. In the 107th District east of Albany, the seat opened after Steven McLaughlin, a Republican, won his race for Rensselaer County executive.

Republicans have tapped Jake Ashby, a former Army captain who was elected to the Rensselaer County Legislature only last fall. The Democratic nominee is Cindy Doran, a retired teacher who has served in the same Legislature since 2013.

The hot-button topic of guns has figured prominently in the race. On his website, Mr. Ashby called the state’s SAFE Act, a package of gun-control laws, a “sickening display of ignorance,” while Ms. Doran wrote on her Facebook page that she “refuses to stand by as mass shootings cause immeasurable heartache.”

To the west of Albany, a three-way race is underway in the 102nd District, where Peter Lopez, a Republican, resigned to work for the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Republican challenger is Chris Tague, supervisor of the town of Schoharie, while the Democratic candidate is Aidan O’Connor Jr., a paramedic and Greene County legislator. The third candidate is Wes Laraway, a high school history teacher running on the “Best Choice” line. Republicans have a strong lead in voter registrations.

A few hundred miles to the west, a Democratic stronghold that includes South Buffalo is a mash-up of party identities. One candidate, Erik T. Bohen, a Buffalo schoolteacher, is a Democrat vying on the Republican and Conservative lines. His opponent, Pat Burke, a county lawmaker, got the Democratic nod.

If elected, Mr. Bohen said he will caucus with Democrats in Albany. But Mr. Burke, who helped pass measures like a ban on gay conversion therapy in Erie County, is skeptical. Mr. Bohen has received the blessing of Michael P. Kearns, who vacated the seat after being elected Erie County clerk. Mr. Kearns, a registered Democrat, was first elected in 2012, but on the Republican line.”

Get out and vote if you are in a special election district.


Four Presidents Pay Tribute to Barbara Bush!

Dear Commons Community,

A touching photograph of several generations of presidents paying tribute to the late Barbara Bush is being warmly and widely circulated on social media.

The remarkable photo features four former presidents — Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush — along with first lady Melania Trump and former first ladies Michelle Obama, Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton.
The photo, taken Saturday by Paul Morse, a former White House photographer for George W. Bush, was initially tweeted by Jim McGrath, the spokesperson for George H. W. Bush in his post-White House years.
President Donald Trump is notably absent from the photo, as he did not attend the funeral in Houston on Saturday. The White House released a statement saying he decided not to attend the funeral in order “to avoid disruptions due to added security, and out of respect for the Bush family and friends attending the service.”
The decision was not uncommon for a sitting president. Neither Obama nor the younger Bush attended the funerals of first ladies during their respective terms. Clinton did attend a graveside service for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in 1994.
Mrs. Bush deserved it!

Earth Day 2018: The 10 Most Pressing Environmental Concerns Facing Our Planet – And Rays of Hope for Each

Dear Commons Community,

Today is Earth Day 2018.  This posting was written by Pam Wright and Bob Henson for the Weather Channel.



Today is Earth Day, and the world comes together to take a hard look at the state of our planet and to inspire people and nations to become catalysts for change.

The movement began on April 22, 1970, when 20 million Americans took to the streets to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment.

Now, 48 years later, Earth Day has become a global event each year and more than 1 billion people in 192 countries will come together again Sunday for Earth Day 2018.

To commemorate Earth Day 2018, we at have taken a look at the state of the planet in light of some recently published studies. We also offer a ray of hope for each of the 10 most pressing environmental concerns.

Here’s our list:

1. Ocean & Plastics

Plastics dumped in our oceans are harming marine wildlife.

The amount of plastic making its way into the Earth’s oceans is staggering.

A recent study from the World Economic Forum notes that 9 million tons of plastic enter oceans every year, which amounts to the equivalent of one garbage truck dumped into the ocean every minute. That figure is expected to double by 2030.

The plastic is killing marine life. An estimated 90 percent of seagulls mistake plastic for food and have bits of plastic in their guts. Researchers say if the trend continues, 99 percent of seabirds will be affected by 2050, the date scientists predict there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish.

Ray of hope: There are more and more alternatives to plastics coming online, including bamboo straws, reusable mugs and compostable utensils made of cornstarch. A growing number of cities, states and countries have restricted or banned plastic bags. Prime Minister Theresa May announced Wednesday that the United Kingdom would seek a ban on all single-use plastic straws.

2. Rising Seas

Rising seas will change the landscape of this planet and possibly much faster than expected.

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in June says the long-warned acceleration in sea level rise is no longer imminent – it’s already underway.

According to the study, sea levels rose at about 1.1 millimeters annually, or 0.43 inches, per decade before 1990, but from 1993 to 2012, seas rose at a much higher annual rate: 3.1 millimeters every year, or 1.22 inches, per decade. It may seem like a small rise, but it’s alarming to scientists that the rate has tripled in a relatively short period of time.

In addition, disruptive tidal flooding known as “nuisance flooding” that now affects the U.S. Gulf and Atlantic coastlines on 3 to 6 days per year will strike as often as 80 to 180 days a year by the 2040s, according to a major report from NOAA’s National Ocean Service released in February.

Ray of hope: If we make serious cuts in greenhouse emissions, we could bring down that potential 57-inch rise by more than a third (down to 36 inches), as noted in the paper cited above.

3. Extreme Weather

Hurricanes, wildfires and severe thunderstorms made 2017 the costliest year on record for weather-related disasters in the United States and it only previews things to come, experts say.

Scientists and decision-makers from around the world took a survey for the 2018 Global Risks Report to identify and analyze the most pressing risks facing the planet and found that extreme weather is the greatest threat to humanity over the next 10 years, topping weapons of mass destruction.

The authors noted that extreme rainfall “can be particularly damaging.”

“Of the 10 natural disasters that caused the most deaths in the first half of 2017, eight involved floods or landslides,” the authors added. “Storms and other weather-related hazards are also a leading cause of displacement, with the latest data showing that 76 percent of the 31.1 million people displaced during 2016 were forced from their homes as a result of weather-related events.”

New studies confirm that the hydrologic cycle is intensifying and the heaviest rains and snows are getting heavier. Meanwhile, drought impacts are getting worse because of rising temperatures. Soil moisture and runoff tend to decrease as temperatures go up, which makes both hydrological and agricultural drought worse, even if the rainfall deficits (meteorological drought) don’t change.

While people try to link extreme weather events to climate change, experts warn that a single event is not an indicator of climate change. Rather, it’s changing trends over a longer period that are a better indicator of human-induced climate change.

Dr. Marshall Shepherd, director of the University of Georgia’s atmospheric sciences program and former president of the American Meteorological Society, likes to say that “weather is your mood; climate is your personality.”

Ray of hope: Adaptations such as water conservation can go a long way toward ameliorating the impact of drought. Smart urban and regional planning can help mitigate the risk of floods.

4. Wildlife

Late last year, the world was shocked at images making the rounds of an emaciated polar bearlooking for food. It turned out that this bear may have been dying of cancer rather than starving. Yet because of the longer-term threat they face due to decreasing Arctic sea ice, polar bears remain a poster child of animals around the world that are at risk from climate change.

Every year, more animals are added to the endangered species list. While many are listed because of poaching and development, the majority are also impacted by climate change, pollution and a decline in their habitats.

“Identifying which traits contribute to a species resilience and vulnerability will allow us to develop more robust conservation action plans in the face of a changing climate,” the World Wildlife Federation says on its website. “Different species will be affected in different ways; sometimes negatively, but not always.”

Ray of hope: Some species may be able to adapt to changing conditions if the rate of change is not too extreme. Certain regions may be able to serve as refuges, such as far northern Canada for polar bears, since year-round sea ice is likely to persist there longer than in some other areas.

5. Forests/Plant Life

Plants and forests are vital for the health of our planet.

For one, they serve as “carbon sinks,” meaning they have the ability to absorb atmospheric CO2 through the process of photosynthesis, which pulls carbon from the atmosphere and stores it in the soil.

Fire, drought, insect infestations and disease outbreaks as a result of human-caused warming can all put our forests and grasslands in jeopardy. Deforestation is a huge issue in the tropics, where vast tracts of rainforests have been slashed and burned in the last several decades.

One study in Nature Climate Change found some good news: The planet’s total mass of plants and forests (biomass) increased from 2003 to 2012, reversing a downward trend.

Not all forests are doing well, though. In Texas, some 300 million trees died after a major drought and record-hot temperatures in 2011. Across the western U.S. and Canada, bark beetle infestations have wiped out vast swaths of forest over the past 20 years. Drought weakened many of these trees, and rising temperatures allow the beetles to thrive.

“The tree mortality that we’re experiencing, it’s really unprecedented,” California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Director Ken Pimlott said in a video for the California State Association of Counties. “Unless you get into the Sierra Nevada, and particularly the central and southern Sierras, you don’t necessarily understand the gravity of it.”

Grasslands are another important U.S. ecosystem that has undergone decline. It is believed that at one point, grasslands covered more than half the globe. In North America, a fifth of the continent was covered in grassland, but today, only 3 percent of tallgrass prairie remains, according to a Yale University study.

It is expected that a warming planet will change how ecosystems interact, which could further endanger our plant kingdom.

Ray of hope: Individuals, local governments and organizations are working to change land management policies and practices, including grazing methods that protect grasslands.

6. Climate Refugees

An estimated 2 billion people may become displaced from their homes by 2100 due to climate-driven rising seas, a study published in June 2017 says. That amounts to roughly one-fifth of the world’s population.

The majority of those will be people who live on coastlines around the world, including about 2 million in Florida alone.

“We’re going to have more people on less land and sooner than we think,” lead author Charles Geisler, professor emeritus of development sociology at Cornell, said in a press release. “The future rise in global mean sea level probably won’t be gradual. Yet few policymakers are taking stock of the significant barriers to entry that coastal climate refugees, like other refugees, will encounter when they migrate to higher ground.”

Ray of hope: If societies around the world recognize that climate change may lead to new refugee crises, they can develop new ways of addressing migration across borders that recognizes the pressures exerted on society by extreme weather, climate variability and long-term climate change.

7. Famine/Scarcity of Food

Global harvests have been going up, on average, for decades. However, some researchers predict that rising temperatures linked to human-caused climate change will cause an increasing drag on crop yields.

According to one study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), corn yields would decrease an average of 7.4 percent for every degree Celsius that the Earth warms, all else being equal. Similarly, wheat yields would be reduced by 6 percent on average, rice yields by 3.2 percent and soybean yields by 3.1 percent.

Increasing levels of carbon dioxide will offset some of these trends, actually helping to increase many yields in the short term. As temperatures continue to rise, though, the balance is expected to shift to a net drain on global crops, particularly in tropical zones.

A review of more than 1700 studies found that “business as usual” global warming (an increase of 2 degrees C) is likely to produce an overall negative effect on global crop yields as soon as the 2030s, getting worse over time. Adaptation by farmers could help reduce but not eliminate the impact.

Increased carbon dioxide also tends to push some crops toward carbohydrates and away from protein. A study by Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health determined that rising carbon dioxide levels could reduce the protein content of staple crops like rice by 7.6 percent and wheat by 7.8 percent by 2050, which could mean that millions of people will become protein deficient.

Ray of hope: The planet’s food supply has tripled over the last 60 years, increasing even faster than the rate of population. New strains of crops are being developed to deal with climate extremes such as intense short-term drought. Changing where some crops are grown could also help. If more people move toward a plant-centered diet, it will stretch our planet’s food supply even further as well as helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

8. Water Supply

In 2014, the National Climate Assessment found that “water quality and water supply reliability are jeopardized by climate change in a variety of ways that affect ecosystems and livelihoods.”

Regions such as the southern United States and the Caribbean will face water shortages and competition as runoff and groundwater recharge decreases, the assessment notes. In addition, decreasing snowpack will threaten water supplies in climates similar to the Southwest U.S., which depends on snowmelt.

Water supplies are also becoming more and more contaminated by nitrogen-rich runoff from development and agriculture.

The growth of bottled water not only leads to more plastic in oceans, it also increases greenhouse gases and may interfere with the progress toward clean water supplies in developing countries.

Ray of hope: Individuals, cities, and nations can take big steps toward water security by conserving water in a variety of ways. Early this year, Cape Town, South Africa, faced a potential shutdown of its municipal water system, but it delayed “Day Zero” (at least for now) thanks to major conservation efforts. Shifting water-intensive crops away from regions of intensifying water stress can also help.

9. Climate-related Illnesses

The World Health Organization said in a July 2017 report that death rates as a result of climate change could top a quarter of a million a year by 2050 because of heat stress related to global warming, extreme weather events, malnutrition and the spread of infectious diseases like malaria.

According to WHO, the direct damage costs to health from human-caused climate change is estimated to be between $2 billion and $4 billion per year by 2030. This excludes the costs in health-determining sectors such as agriculture and water and sanitation, WHO notes.

There will likely be some drop in cold-related disease, although it’s not expected to fully counteract the increase in heat-related illness.

Ray of hope: Public health practices have greatly reduced the incidence of malaria worldwide, in spite of global warming. If we anticipate the amount of climate change that’s already “baked in,” and we work to limit greenhouse gas emissions, we’ll have the best chance of addressing climate-related health problems as they crop up.

10. Wildfires

The number of large forest fires in the western United States and Alaska has increased since the early 1980s, according to the Fourth National Climate Assessment published in 2017.

Scientists say there will be a further increase in those regions as the climate warms. Droughts are becoming hotter in places like California, which pulls more moisture out of forests and makes them more fire-prone.

A century of fire suppression has left many U.S. wildlands vulnerable to intense fires. Wildfire impacts are also ramping up because more and more people are living in “fire country” at the urban-wildland interface.

The devastation resulting from wildfires is not limited to forests and property. Fire-related illnesses will likely increase in tandem with the expected increase in wildfires.

In 2017, some 58,000 wildfires burned more than 9.2 million acres across the United States, making the air in many towns and cities too dangerous to breathe.

Linking an increase in wildfires to climate change is similar to linking extreme weather to a warming planet. It’s about the trends.

In a paper published in PNAS in 2016, researchers determined that human-caused warming has doubled the total area burned in the western United States over the past 33 years.

The consensus among scientists is that drier conditions as a result of climate change will increase the incidence of larger and more frequent wildfires, particularly in area already prone to wildfire activity.

Ray of hope: Controlled burns can help reduce the risk of uncontrolled wildland fire. Increased awareness of the growing fire threat at the urban/wildland interface may help reduce the type of development that puts both firefighters and residents at risk.

Arizona Teachers Vote for Statewide Walkout on April 26th – #RedForEd!

Dear Commons Community,

Teachers in Arizona voted on Thursday night in favor of a statewide walkout in protest over low pay and school funding.  Their vote continues a movement that is sweeping across the United States that started in West Virginia and continued into Oklahoma and Kentucky. As reported by the New York Times:

“The spread of the protests to Arizona from West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky, all Republican-dominated states with weak public sector unions, signaled the depth of frustration from teachers and parents over years of education budget cuts.

The movement first arose in West Virginia, where teachers walked off the job in February, winning a $2,000 raise. In Oklahoma, the threat of a walkout garnered a $6,000 raise for teachers, but they still picketed the Capitol for nine days, calling for additional school funding that mostly did not come. In Kentucky, teachers have rallied outside the State Capitol to protest changes to their pension plans and to demand more money for schools.

“It’s clear that our educators are inspired by what they’ve seen in West Virginia and Oklahoma and Kentucky,” said Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union. “They see educators rising up and lifting their voices for their students, and doing so in a way that can’t be ignored.”

The vote in Arizona followed weeks of protest across the state and promises from the governor to raise salaries. The Arizona Education Association and Arizona Educators United, a group of teachers who organized independently on Facebook, said that 78 percent of the teachers and school workers who cast ballots supported a walkout.

The groups said the walkout would take place on April 26 if legislators and the governor did not meet their demands, not only for a raise for teachers but also one for school support staff. They also called for an end to tax cuts until Arizona’s per-pupil spending reaches the national average.

Unlike West Virginia and Oklahoma, Arizona has never before had a statewide teacher walkout, and has experienced only a handful of districtwide strikes over the past four decades.

The state has cut approximately $1 billion from schools since the 2008 recession, while also cutting taxes. It spent under $7,500 per pupil annually in 2015, the last year for which census data was available; only Utah and Idaho spent less.

As in the other states where teachers have picketed, many districts in Arizona are facing teacher shortages in subjects like math, science and special education, with principals reporting that staff members are moving to deeper-pocketed states to earn up to $20,000 more per year, or to work in better-funded classrooms.

Noah Karvelis, an elementary school music teacher and the founder of Arizona Educators United, said he was sympathetic to the disruption that widespread school closings would cause students and parents. But, he said, that should not forestall a walkout.

“If we maintain the status quo, that is way worse than missing a couple of days of school,” Mr. Karvelis said at a news conference outside the union headquarters in Phoenix. “The biggest disservice any of us could do for our students right now is to not act in this moment.”

Across Arizona, tens of thousands of teachers, parents and students, clad in red, participated in protests outside schools on April 11. Gov. Doug Ducey said he was “impressed” by the movement, which calls itself #RedForEd. He promised to provide teachers with a 20 percent raise by 2020, and to restore school budgets to pre-Recession levels over the next five years. He said he could do so without raising taxes, because the state’s economy is improving and existing state programs could be cut.

But many teachers rejected that plan, or said they distrusted Mr. Ducey, a first-term Republican.

“You don’t rob Peter to feed Paul,” said Kassandra Dominguez, who teaches first grade in the Pendergast school district, near Phoenix. “That’s so wrong, and I wouldn’t want that money.”

Alternate proposals for raising school budgets include increasing an education sales tax from six-tenths of a cent to one cent, or closing corporate tax loopholes.

The average teacher salary in Arizona is about $47,000 per year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. But starting salaries are much lower, and many teachers leading the protest movement are in their 20s and 30s.

Ms. Dominguez, 27, earns $38,250 per year, and says that because of low education budgets, she has had to pay out of pocket, or raise money from private donors, to buy her students science supplies, chairs and snacks. She voted in favor of a walkout. Her district had lost a total of $1.6 million over the past five years because of budget cuts, according to administrators, and the school board had come out in favor of the #RedForEd movement.

In San Tan Valley, an exurban area an hour southeast of Phoenix, Mary Stavely, an elementary schoolteacher, said she had also voted in favor of a walkout. Ms. Stavely, 34, earns $36,800. Thirteen of 38 teachers at her school, Circle Cross Ranch K-8, are planning to resign at the end of this academic year, she said, because of factors like low pay and a lack of rental housing in the area.

“It directly affects students” when teacher turnover is high, Ms. Stavely said, because children “lose morale and the connections that were made” with caring adults. Ms. Stavely, a single mother, is currently living with her parents, and said she has considered looking for a higher-paying job. Still, she said she had spent her spring break going door to door to recruit parents to enroll their children at her public school. Arizona has aggressively expanded charter schools and private school vouchers in recent years, leading to enrollment declines — and potential budget cuts — for some traditional schools.

More than 57,000 educators filled out a ballot in the Arizona walkout vote. There are approximately 90,000 certified teachers in the state, but only 20,000 members of the Arizona Education Association, the union. As in the other red states that have had recent teacher protests, union membership is optional for Arizona educators, and labor organizing is new for many of them.”

Power to the teachers in Arizona – #RedForEd!



Rudy Giuliani Hired as Trump’s New Fixer in Mueller Probe!

Dear Commons Community,

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a one-time federal prosecutor, is joining U.S. President Donald Trump’s personal legal team, Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow said in a statement yesterday. Giuliani was the Republican mayor of New York from 1994 to 2001, Giuliani was also the chief federal prosecutor in Manhattan for much of the 1980s. During that time, he brought many high-profile cases targeting insider trading on Wall Street. Since exiting the mayor’s office, Giuliani has been in private practice, most recently at the law firm of Greenberg Traurig. The firm said Giuliani is on a leave of absence, effective today.  As reported by the New York Times:

“Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York City mayor and longtime friend of President Trump, will join the president’s legal team in an effort to “quickly” resolve the special counsel investigation into Russian election interference and possible ties to Trump associates.

Mr. Trump will also bring on Jane Serene Raskin and Martin R. Raskin, former federal prosecutors based in Florida, according to Mr. Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow. Mr. Giuliani is himself a former federal prosecutor.

“The president said: ‘Rudy is great. He has been my friend for a long time and wants to get this matter quickly resolved for the good of the country,’” Mr. Sekulow said in a statement.

The three new lawyers give Mr. Trump a broader legal stable to rely on as he faces not just the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, but the threat of an investigation by federal prosecutors in Manhattan into the president’s longtime personal lawyer and fixer, Michael D. Cohen. Federal agents raided Mr. Cohen’s office and hotel room last week.

Mr. Trump has a difficult time retaining top-flight lawyers as the inquiries have increasingly unsettled him, and he has angrily chafed against his lawyers’ legal strategies.

Mr. Trump and his associates believe the issues in New York pose a far greater challenge to the president than even Mr. Mueller’s investigation. They do not know what was taken from Mr. Cohen’s office, and it is not clear what exactly investigators are looking into. But the fact that the authorities were able to get a federal judge to give them permission to raid Mr. Cohen’s office and residences has led Mr. Trump and his associates to believe the government possesses some evidence of wrongdoing by Mr. Cohen.

In hiring Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Trump has turned to someone who is a reliable, loyal surrogate and an attack dog on television. Mr. Giuliani is a former top official at the Justice Department and served as the United States attorney in Manhattan. But at age 73 he is no longer known as a powerhouse white-collar litigator and in recent years has been more active as a worldwide consultant.

One person close to Mr. Trump said the Raskins will be the longer-term and more durable additions to the team. Mr. Giuliani, by contrast, is coming on board as a short-timer not only to appear on television but also to see if he can use his decades-long ties with Mr. Mueller to re-establish a working relationship with the special counsel’s team. The relationship between the president’s lawyers and Mr. Mueller’s team blew up after agents raided Mr. Cohen.

Mr. Giuliani’s main focus will be on bringing an end to Mr. Mueller’s investigation into whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice and links between his campaign and Russia. As part of those efforts, Mr. Giuliani will take the lead dealing with Mr. Mueller’s office on an interview with Mr. Trump. The president and his lawyers do not believe Mr. Trump has any real legal exposure but are wary of the interview.

At the same time, though, they have determined that for Mr. Mueller to complete his inquiry in a timely manner, Mr. Trump will need to sit down for questioning. Mr. Giuliani plans to try to work with Mr. Mueller to come up with a way to question Mr. Trump that both sides are comfortable with.”

In a brief interview last night, Mr. Giuliani said that he planned only on working for Trump for a few weeks.  This seems more like a Hail Mary pass from President Trump to disentangle himself from his legal problems. Mueller does not seem to be somebody who is going to be rushed and the Michael Cohen case in New York is just getting started.


TESS: NASA’s New Planet Hunter Launched!

Dear Commons Community,

NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) launched yesterday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, rising off the pad atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 6:51 p.m. EDT (2251 GMT) and deploying into Earth orbit 49 minutes later.

TESS will hunt for alien worlds around stars in the sun’s neighborhood — planets that other missions can then study in detail. And the spacecraft will be incredibly prolific, if all goes according to plan.

“TESS is going to dramatically increase the number of planets that we have to study,” TESS principal investigator George Ricker, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said during a pre-launch briefing Sunday (April 15).

“It’s going to more than double the number that have been seen and detected by Kepler,” Ricker added, referring to NASA’s Kepler space telescope, which has spotted 2,650 confirmed exoplanets to date —about 70 percent of all the worlds known beyond our solar system.

And the Falcon 9’s first stage came back to Earth less than 9 minutes after liftoff today, touching down softly on a robotic SpaceX “drone ship” stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. SpaceX has now pulled off two dozen such landings during Falcon 9 launches — part of the company’s push to develop fully and rapidly reusable rockets and spacecraft, a breakthrough that SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk has said will revolutionize spaceflight.

SpaceX has re-flown 11 of these first stages to date, but the tally didn’t increase today: This Falcon 9 was brand-new.

Today’s launch was originally scheduled for Monday evening (April 16), but it was delayed by two days to give SpaceX time to investigate a potential issue with the rocket’s guidance, navigation and control systems. 

Like Kepler, TESS will find alien planets using the “transit method,” noting the tiny brightness dips these worlds cause when they cross their host stars’ faces. But there are some big differences between the missions.

During its prime mission from 2009 through 2013, Kepler stared continuously at a single patch of sky, monitoring about 150,000 stars simultaneously. (Kepler is now embarked on a different mission, called K2, during which it studies a variety of cosmic objects and phenomena, exoplanets among them. But the iconic telescope’s days are numbered; it’s almost out of fuel.) Most of these stars are far from the sun — from several hundred light-years to 1,000 light-years or more. 

But TESS will conduct a broad sky survey during its two-year prime mission, covering about 85 percent of the sky. The satellite will focus on the nearest and brightest stars, using its four cameras to look for worlds that may be close enough to be studied in depth by other instruments. 

Indeed, TESS will rely on a variety of other telescopes on the ground and in space to help determine which of its “candidates” are bona fide planets, and to characterize the newly discovered worlds. One such partner will be NASA’s $8.8 billion James Webb Space Telescope, which is scheduled to launch in 2020. James Webb should be able to probe the atmospheres of at least a few TESS planets for oxygen, methane and other possible signs of life, NASA officials have said.

“TESS is the first step toward finding habitable planets,” mission project scientist Stephen Rinehart, who’s based at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said during Sunday’s briefing. 

The mission will be a big step toward exploring such worlds up-close as well, team members said. In 50 to 100 years, humanity will probably be capable of launching tiny robotic spacecraft to explore a number of nearby exoplanets, perhaps using technology like that being developed by the $100 million Breakthrough Starshot project, MIT’s Ricker said.

“We are putting together a catalog of the very best targets for those probes,” he said. “That’s one thing that I think will be a lasting legacy of TESS.”

 TESS also differs from Kepler in its orbit. Whereas Kepler loops around the sun, TESS will zoom around our planet, on a highly elliptical, 13.7-day orbit that no spacecraft has ever occupied before.

This orbit will take TESS as close to Earth as 67,000 miles (108,000 kilometers) and as far away as 232,000 miles (373,000 km). The satellite will be able to beam its onboard data down to Earth quickly and efficiently during the close approaches. 

The orbit is also incredibly stable and features relatively low radiation exposure and low thermal variation, said Robert Lockwood, TESS spacecraft program manager at Orbital ATK, the Virginia-based company that built the satellite for NASA.

“It really is a Goldilocks orbit,” Lockwood told

But TESS won’t get there for a while. After a number of engine firings and one dramatic maneuver — a close flyby of the moon on May 17 — TESS will arrive in its final orbit in mid-June, if all goes according to plan. The science campaign will start shortly thereafter.

For more information on TESS, go to:


A Professor at Fresno State Tweets that Barbara Bush Was an “Amazing Racist” Who Raised a ”War Criminal” – Generates a Firestorm!

Dear Commons Community,

Yesterday, much of the nation was mourning the death of former first lady and former first mother, Barbara Bush.  The wife of President George H.W. Bush and mother of President George W. Bush was being remembered as a steadying and firm influence on her family and especially her spouse and son while they were in office.  Randa Jarrar, a professor of English at California State University at Fresno sparked outrage yesterday by tweeting that Mrs. Bush was an “amazing racist” who raised a “war criminal.”  There were emotional calls for her dismissal especially by fellow tweeters. As reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education:

“Randa Jarrar, a tenured professor who is on leave this semester, wrote that she would never be fired because she has tenure and free-speech rights. She encouraged anyone who objected to contact the university’s president. They did, in droves.

The president, Joseph I. Castro, issued a statement offering condolences to the Bush family on the former first lady’s death and saying Jarrar was commenting as a private citizen, not as a representative of Fresno State.

“Professor Jarrar’s expressed personal views and commentary are obviously contrary to the core values of our university, which include respect and empathy for individuals with divergent points of view, and a sincere commitment to mutual understanding and progress,” Castro wrote.

His statement drew an angry backlash from some people who questioned why he didn’t condemn Jarrar’s remarks more forcefully.

Screen shots of Jarrar’s comments were captured and shared on Twitter before she made her account private, with a note that she is on leave from Fresno State and the opinions are her own. In one, she wrote “Barbara Bush was a generous and smart and amazing racist who, along with her husband, raised a war criminal.”

In another, Jarrar, who teaches creative writing to both undergraduate and graduate students, wrote that she was “happy that the witch is dead.” Later she added, “If you’d like to know what it’s like to be an Arab American Muslim American woman with some clout online expressing an opinion, look at the racists going crazy in my mentions right now.”

Jarrar, who did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday, began an hours-long Twitter rant within an hour of the announcement that Bush, 92, had died. When irate readers demanded that she be fired, Jarrar’s response, according to widely circulated screen shots, was “LOL! Let me help you. You should tag my president @JosephCastro. What I love about being an American professor is my right to free speech, and what I love about Fresno State is that I always feel protected and at home here,” she wrote. “GO BULLDOGS!”

People on Twitter reacted with outrage.

Jarrar went on to taunt readers who had objected, according to reposted screen shots, saying that she worked as a tenured professor making $100,000 a year and that people will always want to hear what she has to say.

Jarrar also supplied a phone number for people to call her, but it was instead a suicide hotline. An operator there said she had been flooded with calls.

Her English-department profile refers to her as an award-winning novelist, short-story writer, essayist, and translator who grew up in Kuwait and Egypt and moved to the United States after the Gulf War. Jarrar was born in Chicago to an Egyptian-Greek mother and a Palestinian father, according to a 2014 profile on the Institute for Middle East Understanding’s website.

Her books include A Map of Home, a collection of stories depicting the lives of Arab women, and Him, Me, Muhammad Ali, described on her website as “a collection … featuring journalists and kids and queers and pregnant girls and birds who are arrested for spying.”

Jarrar’s writings also include an opinion piece published on Salon in 2014 titled, “Why I Can’t Stand White Belly-Dancers,” in which she accused such women of cultural appropriation. 

The Chronicle also raised a question as to whether her comments could lead to her dismissal.  

A blog run by Ken White, a criminal-defense lawyer in Los Angeles, said three factors play into whether her comments are protected speech.

First, was she speaking on a matter of public interest? Yes, he concluded, the death of a public official falls into that category.

Second, was she speaking as a private citizen or as part of her job duties? Since she was on leave and Twitter isn’t part of her job, the answer, he determined, would be as a private citizen.

And third, can her employer show that her speech was so disruptive to the workplace that it interfered with its orderly business? That would be the toughest for Fresno State to prove, White said.

His assessment: “Professor Jarrar was speaking as a private individual on a matter of public interest. It would be difficult for Fresno State to establish that the tweets about Barbara Bush themselves caused the sort of disruption of the school’s business that so outweighs her free-speech interests so that it would justify her termination.”

As a reminder, the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”



Nikki Haley to White House:  “I don’t get confused!”

Dear Commons Community,

Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, made it clear to White House officials yesterday that they have a problem communicating official foreign policy to senior administrators.  In an interview on Fox News, she said: “I don’t get confused” implying it is the White House that gets confused.  Here is a brief recap of the exchange courtesy of the New York Times:

“President Trump was watching television on Sunday when he saw Nikki R. Haley, his ambassador to the United Nations, announce that he would impose fresh sanctions on Russia. The president grew angry, according to an official informed about the moment. As far as he was concerned, he had decided no such thing.

It was not the first time Mr. Trump has yelled at the television over something he saw Ms. Haley saying. This time, however, the divergence has spilled into public in a remarkable display of discord that stems not just from competing views of Russia but from larger questions of political ambition, jealousy, resentment and loyalty.

The rift erupted into open conflict on Tuesday when a White House official blamed Ms. Haley’s statement about sanctions on “momentary confusion.” That prompted her to fire back, saying that she did not “get confused.” The public disagreement embarrassed Ms. Haley and reinforced questions about Mr. Trump’s foreign policy — and who speaks for his administration.

At the very least, the episode highlighted the crossed circuits over foreign policy in an administration with no secretary of state, an increasingly marginalized White House chief of staff and a national security adviser who has only been on the job for a week and has pushed out many of the senior national security officials in the White House but has yet to bring in his own team.

Since Mr. Trump fired Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson last month, Ms. Haley has been the administration’s leading foreign policy figure. And yet she was not kept in the loop on a major decision involving perhaps America’s most powerful adversary.

According to several officials, the White House did not inform Ms. Haley that it had changed course on sanctions, leaving her to hang out alone.

“It damages her credibility going forward and once again makes everyone, friend and foe alike, wonder that when the United States says something, approves something, calls for something, opposes something, is it for real?” said Representative Gerald E. Connolly, Democrat of Virginia and a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “Should we wait to see what Trump does the next day?”

The clash was reminiscent of various occasions when Mr. Trump has directly undercut subordinates, as when Mr. Tillerson broached the idea of negotiations with North Korea and the president scolded him on Twitter not to waste his time. Many in Washington and at the United Nations were riveted by the sharp exchange on Tuesday between the White House and its senior international diplomat.

“She got ahead of the curve,” Larry Kudlow, the president’s national economics adviser, told reporters at a briefing in Florida before Mr. Trump welcomed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan to his Mar-a-Lago estate. “She’s done a great job. She’s a very effective ambassador, but there might have been some momentary confusion about that.”

Ms. Haley took umbrage. A few hours later, she spoke with Dana Perino of Fox News, who quoted her response on air: “With all due respect, I don’t get confused.”

Mr. Kudlow then called Ms. Haley to apologize. “She was certainly not confused,” Mr. Kudlow told The New York Times by telephone. “I was wrong to say that — totally wrong.”

He added: “As it turns out, she was basically following what she thought was policy. The policy was changed and she wasn’t told about it, so she was in a box.”

It sounds confusing to me!



Sean Hannity: Secret Client of Trump’s Embattled Lawyer Michael Cohen!

Dear Commons Community,

During a hearing at a packed courtroom in Lower Manhattan on Monday, Sean Hannity was named as a client of Mr. Trump’s longtime personal lawyer and fixer, Michael D. Cohen. This disclosure has raised a firestorm of ethical issues for the Fox News host.  As reported by the New York  Times:

“The revelation nudged the Hannity into the orbit of those who have lately come under legal scrutiny related to the investigations of Mr. Trump and his associates by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, and the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan. Both inquiries have provided fodder for Mr. Hannity’s prime-time cable show and nationally syndicated radio program.

The host’s closeness with the president may not sit well with media watchdogs, but the cozy relationship has been good for the Hannity business: “Hannity” is the most-watched cable news program, averaging 3.2 million viewers in the first quarter of 2018, up from 1.8 million in the early months of 2016.

The courtroom disclosure about Mr. Hannity occurred during the expanding criminal investigation into Mr. Cohen by the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan. F.B.I. agents raided Mr. Cohen’s home, office and hotel room on the morning of April 9, a move that Mr. Trump called an “attack on our country.”

In a legal filing before the hearing on Monday, Mr. Cohen said that, since 2017, he had worked as a lawyer for 10 clients, seven of whom he served by providing “strategic advice and business consulting.” The other three comprised Mr. Trump, the Republican fund-raiser Elliott Broidy and a third person who went unnamed.

The mystery was solved when Kimba M. Wood, a judge for the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, ordered that Mr. Cohen’s lawyer, Stephen Ryan, disclose the name of the client in question — who turned out to be Mr. Hannity.

Mr. Hannity denied on Monday that he was a client of Mr. Cohen’s, saying that he had never paid him for his services and that his discussions with him were brief and centered on real estate.

The surprise naming of Mr. Hannity took place after several minutes of back and forth among government representatives, members of Mr. Cohen’s legal team and Judge Wood.

Before the name was revealed, Mr. Ryan argued that the mystery client was a “prominent person” who wanted to keep his identity a secret because he would be “embarrassed” to be identified as having sought Mr. Cohen’s counsel.

Robert D. Balin, a lawyer for various media outlets, including The New York Times, CNN and others, interrupted the hearing to argue that embarrassment was not a sufficient cause to withhold a client’s name, and Judge Wood agreed.

After Mr. Hannity was named, there were audible gasps from the spectators.

The hearing on Monday resulted from a challenge by Mr. Cohen’s lawyers, who argued for the appointment of a “special master” to examine the records seized during the federal raid on April 9. The exact nature of Mr. Cohen’s work for Mr. Hannity is unclear.

On Fox News, the anchor Shepard Smith reported that his colleague had been named as a client of Mr. Cohen’s, saying that it was time for him to address “the elephant in the room.”

It is more like a herd of elephants in the room.